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The Lasting Legacy of Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, and Freemason, Dave Thomas

By March 26, 2019February 17th, 2021No Comments

“I think the harder you work, the more luck you have.”

This phrase depicts the essence of Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s fast food restaurant, and sheds light on his difficult past and the hard work that molded his story into one of fame and success.

Also a Freemason and active philanthropist, Dave’s original mission of generosity to bring “a good hamburger” to Columbus, Ohio turned into another type of generous mission altogether: promoting the adoption of foster children. His legacy is one of drive and determination, creating groundbreaking initiatives in the food industry as well as the lives of foster children in the United States. Here is Brother Dave Thomas’s story of beating the odds.

Early Life
Dave Thomas was born Rex David Thomas in Atlantic City, New Jersey on July 2, 1932. He was adopted at 6 months old by a couple from Kalamazoo, Michigan and at age 5 his mother passed away. By the age of 12, Dave had lost two stepmothers and his father moved the family to Fort Wayne, Indiana. In Fort Wayne, Dave worked many odd jobs such as paperboy, golf caddy, and drugstore soda fountain counter attendant. At 15, he got his first steady job at a The Hobby House restaurant and when his father decided to move the family again, Dave refused, dropped out of high school and started full time work.

One might think that it all started with a hamburger but, actually, it started with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Yes, that’s right! Colonel Sanders’s Kentucky Fried Chicken was the catalyst for Wendy’s.

Through connections in the U.S army and at The Hobby House, Thomas was given the opportunity to move to Columbus, OH to improve some of the first KFC restaurants, which were failing at the time. In just a few years, Thomas sold the franchises back to the headquarters for $1.5 million.

With this money, Thomas opened up his own hamburger restaurant in Ohio in 1969, named Wendy’s after his young daughter’s nickname. This small venture became a large scale operation in less than a decade and ten years after its start, had 1,000 stores to its name. He was also the first to successfully implement a drive-through pick up, now a staple in fast food restaurants throughout the world.

Dave Thomas was a member of Sol. D. Bayless Lodge #359. He was initiated at the age of 27 on April 13, 1959, passed on April 20, 1959 and raised on May 25, 1959 at The Masonic Temple in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Thomas was also a 33° Scottish Rite Mason and Shriner.

Dave Thomas beat the odds and he knew it. Many children that grow up in foster care and are adopted do not have an easy life or clear path to success. That is why Thomas decided to dedicate his life to giving funds and training resources to adoption agencies across the United States. He created the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, the only public nonprofit charity in the United States that is focused solely on foster care adoption. They work closely with child welfare advocates and policymakers, provide free resources about foster care adoption, and raise awareness through multiple communication efforts.

Dave Thomas was an amazing businessman, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and icon. He created a lasting legacy filled with a lot of heart, passion for helping others, quality to his customers, and love of Freemasonry.
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Looking to learn more about famous Masons? Explore our educational blog on President Harry S. Truman.